Central Coast to San Diego

Much of Catalina Island is protected from development because it is owned by the Nature Conservancy.  With ample hiking, we walked uphill to the nature center to secure our hiking permits.  The nature center had some interesting displays about local flora and fauna, but we were itching to get moving before it got too hot.  We were off on the Hermit Gulch hike which takes us up to a ridge where we can see the other side of the island.  It did start to get warm and there is virtually no shade on the trail.  The views at the top were enjoyable and we spotted some of the unique plants, although to me, they just looked like plants.

The hike has an added advantage in that the downward trip ends at the back entrance to the Wrigley Memorial, thereby skipping out on the entrance fee.  We explored the memorial to someone who had a lot of impact on developing and preserving the island.   Our empty stomachs motivated us to quickly walk through the native plant garden and catch the trolley back in to town so we could get lunch.

Since we had our unlimited tour package, we reserved a trip up to the “airport” (it is in fact an airport, but pretty rural).  Our tour group had only six people and a rather goofy driver.  He decided we should take the Hummer rather than the bus.  His goofiness was apparent in his numerous pun jokes he told and his giggling way too often.  Still, he knew his stuff about the island.  We were able to see the Wrigley mansion, the buffalo that inhabit the island (after being brought in for a movie), and the airport. 

After dinner, we went on a flying fish tour.  This was really fun and unique.  We board a motorboat with tens of other people.  It departs at dusk and the boat has a couple big searchlights on either side.  Once in the open water, they shine the light out into the water and you can see flying fish.  They really are airborne, sometimes for several seconds.  You can also watch the seals and birds trying to hunt them for a tasty dinner.  It was impossible to get a photo given the speed and lighting conditions, but was very fun to watch and a great way to end our vacation,

Photos from today:


After checking out of our San Diego lodging, we headed north towards the port city of Long Beach.  The GPS lead us a bit off the path at the port area (which is enormous), but we finally found our boat area.  Our boat company had added a departure an hour earlier than the one we were booked on, but they said we could take that which got us to Catalina Island an hour earlier than we were planning on.

Catalina Island is the only substantially inhabited island of the Channel Islands.  Developed to a large degree by William Wrigley, Jr. of bubble gum fame, there are few cars and many gas powered golf carts. The main town is Avalon, home to a few thousand permanent residents and the destination for our boat.   We arrived after a little over an hour on the water and walked the short distance to our hotel. 

Our lodging included various tours so we lined one up for this afternoon – the submersible boat.  It’s kind of like a more advanced glass bottom boat.  After you board the boat, you walk down a few stairs and then can sit below the water line and look out the windows at the marine life.  Once out to sea, the crew throw food into the water and the fish swarm around boat.  It was a neat site.

There are a bunch of restaurants since this is a tourist town and the quality fit with a tourist area – not as good as it should be for about the same price.  In any event, we were full and enjoyed the music during dinner.  We played a round of mini golf to cap off the evening.

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Today we went to the La Jolla area of San Diego.  While much of the country is having a huge heat wave, here it’s downright cool – maybe getting up to 70 today.  La Jolla was foggy, so rather than kayaking in cold weather, we walked along the coast.  There are lots of seals and sea lions frolicking in the water and they were fun to watch.  There’s an area called “Children’s Pool” right on the coast.  It’s a protected beach cove that was originally designed for kids to swim in.  Unfortunately for the kids, the seals found they liked it, too.  There have been off and on court battles over beach access vs. animal protection.  In the end, the seals won, although some adults still felt they should walk up as close as a few feet to the seals.  We watched some of these people, I mean idiots, hoping for some good seal-human carnage, but no such luck.

We wandered along the coast and then visited Sunny Jim’s Cave.  This is a bit of a tourist trap where you go down a bunch of stares to visit a sea cave right on the coast.  Sunny Jim today was really Foggy Jim, but hey we saw a sea cave.   For lunch we found an Amici’s Pizza of all places (only recently opened in San Diego).

For the afternoon we headed to Torre Pines State Natural Reserve.  It was a bit of a pain to get to because of some road construction that caused traffic and prevented us from turning where we wanted to.  In the end we made it, only to find they had more than doubled the admission fee.  We like supporting the parts, but this place is no where half as good as Yosemite despite that being what they charge. 

The torre pine is only found here and is a unique pine tree.  I’m not enough of a botanist to really appreciate the differences, but we had a nice walk around the park and along the coast.

After cleaning up and a quick dinner, we caught a show at nearby Balboa Park.  We saw “Divine Rivalry”, about the rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo.  I didn’t realize that Machiavelli was involved and that they all were alive at the same time.  The show was pretty good and we enjoyed catching some live theater.

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socal342The San Diego Zoo is excellent and they also have a second location inland called the Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park).  We went there today to take in the animals.  It is mostly a regular zoo, but also has a tram ride that takes you out into larger areas of animal habitats.  They do animal breeding here as part of their conservation mission.  I took lots of animal photos.

Safari Park took most of the day.  We tried to visit the nearby San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park, but it is only open on the weekends.  Having never heard of this battle, we learned later that it was during the Mexican-American War in 1846. 

Dinner in Little Italy was excellent tonight as we dined at Buon Appetito.  It was nice being able to walk not too far for excellent food.

Photos from Safari Park:


I had not been to San Diego in a while and since my last visit, the USS Midway was docked in the harbor and available for tours.  We walked over there from our hotel and spent several hours touring it.  It dates from the late 1940s and was interesting to see for both its design and engineering.  The ship is a city at sea. 

We waited on line for a guided tour of the Bridge (the only way to see it).  Most of the tour guides were former military, if not former Midway sailors.  While waiting on the line, I asked if photos were allowed in the bridge.  I didn’t want to be accused of being a spy and put in the brig.  The guide replied, yes they are allowed for $5 each”.  I said, “no, no, you don’t have to pay me for my pictures”.  It’d be rude to take money from a veteran.  The bridge tour was neat and they had a cutting edge GPS box the size of a VCR. 

We left the ship and walked along the waterfront back to the outdoor shopping area we were last night to have lunch.  Since we were already near the harbor, we decided to take a boat trip to Coronado.  I thought Coronado was an island, but it is in fact a peninsula.  The point where it connects to land is pretty far from here, so a boat or trip over the bridge is the way to go.   We hopped on  a bus to go across town to visit the famous Hotel Del Coronado, which has been home to presidents, celebrities, and now us.   We wandered around, checked out the beach, and then took the bus back to San Diego.

The trip back was nice in that we went over the bridge for better views.   San Diego is a big military town and Coronado has a base on it.  On the bus ride, an older guy who was clearly a regular, asked the bus driver if he could talk to the bus.  He went to the front and asked who were veterans or in the military.  A fair number of people raised their hands and then he asked for a round of applause to thank them.  Next, he lead the bus in singing “America the Beautiful”.  USA!  USA!  

When he sat back down behind us I mentioned I went to Georgia Tech so he then proceeded to sing the Tech fight song, which I was impressed he knew.  All in all, an entertaining ride back before our evening of dinner and jazz in the Gaslamp district.

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Since we were driving from Ventura to San Diego, the City of Angels was a convenient stop to break up the drive.   By mid morning we had arrived at our first stop, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Founded in 1899, it because the resting place of many Hollywood legends from the founding of Hollywood.  We picked up a map at the Flower Shop and then made stops at various celebrities.  While we didn’t find all the gravesites we went looking for, we stopped at Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Blanc, and Charlie Chaplin, Jr.  among others.   Then it was off for lunch.

The restaurant we looked for was closed for the 4th, so we stopped at another nearby café that was crowded.  This was our first introduction to why LA is really is La La Land.  The hostess was wearing some kind of crazy outfit we guessed in an attempt  to try and get discovered and the three guys at the table behind us were talking about their clients.   To paraphrase “The Wizard of Oz”, Whitney, we’re not in Silicon Valley anymore.

After lunch, we drove over to Hollywood Blvd. to walk along the Walk of Fame.  We scored street parking which gave us enough time to wander the area including the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  By mid afternoon we departed for San Diego which we arrived at with minimal trouble.

When we checked in to the hotel, we asked about fireworks for July 4th.  They were at the nearby waterfront so we walked over after dinner.  While finding our spot a little before 9pm, there was a very loud boom and a brief bright light in the sky.  I replied to L’, “Wow, this is going to be great, we are really close!”.  Then we waited for the show to start.  And waited.  And waited.  When we saw the barges with police escorts going by, we knew nothing more was going to happen.  Turning on the news in the hotel, we learned that the big boom we saw was in fact all of the fireworks going off at the same time.  There was a “glitch” and the twenty minute show went off in a couple seconds.  Oops.

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Today we had a trip to the Channel Islands, an island chain off the coast of Southern and Central California.   While there are eight separate islands, today we would only be visiting the island of Santa Cruz (one of five that are part of Channel Islands National Park).  Being an island, we had to get there by boat which we had arranged in advance.   We got to the boat dock early so we used our extra time to visit the park Visitor Center.   We watched a movie about the islands and learned a little about their formation from the displays.  They have a complicated formation with multiple geologic activities occurring from tectonic plate subduction to lava flows.

socal173Once the boat departed (a bit late), the ride was mostly smooth and when we traversed the deep part of the channel, the boat slowed and circled for us to watch the dolphins at play.  There are lots of them jumping out of the water (sorry, no pictures).  Sea World must do their recruiting here.  After about an hour, we arrived at Santa Cruz.

After it was clear the guided walk was going to take forever to get started and move at a snails pace, we abandoned it and did the hike to Potato Harbor which makes a nice loop.  While walking near the campground, we did get a quick viewing of the Island Fox, a unique species found only here.  Because the island has been separated from other land for so long, there are many unique plants and animals here.  The Channel Islands have been called the Galapagos of the Northern Hemisphere (without the cool tortoises) for this reason.

After completing our hiking for the day, we returned to the dock for the boat ride back to Ventura.

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This morning we went out hiking above Santa Barbara on the  trail to Inspiration Point.  It was a nice hike with a good length and some interesting things to see.  Some of the rock formations reminded us of Pinnacles National Monument.  The view at the top was good, although not with the best lighting and a bit of fog. 

For lunch we went back to State St., the main drag in Santa Barbara.  We checked out Uncle Rocco’s New York Pizza.  It was disappointing in that the pizza was just fair, but at least they charged a lot for it.  Oh well, we’ll be getting Speederia when we return home.

socal119Our next destination was Ventura.  We visited the San Buenaventura Mission which was  the last mission founded by Junipero Serra and dates to 1782.  The small remains of the original Mission were an interesting tour.  We then wandered around the Old Town area of Ventura taking in the area that was an old Chinatown. 

After checking in to our hotel and changing for dinner, we headed to the inland city of Ojai (a Chumash word pronounced Oh-hi).  Ojai’s claim to fame is that scenes from the movie Lost Horizon were filmed here. It also supposedly has a big glow when the sun hits the hills at sunset.  We did notice that they were very red, although I wouldn’t really call it breathtaking. 

We had an enjoyable dinner and then went looking for some dessert.   There was a surprising lack of ice cream places, yet several yogurt stores.  As close friends and family know, I’m morally opposed to the self serve yogurt places that have been popping up everywhere.  Why would I want to get my own yogurt when I could have someone else get me ice cream? 

Without alternatives to yogurt, I browsed the yogurt store and filled my cup with a chocolate/vanilla blend.  Then it’s off to the toppings bar to try and turn the yogurt into a real dessert with the addition of M&M’s, chocolate chips, and some sprinkles.  We paid for our yogurt and sat outside.  Even with all the chocolate added, the yogurt was a poor dessert.  To add insult to injury, on the way back to the car we finally passed an ice cream store that also sold fudge.  To cleanse my palette, I picked up some fudge with my lesson learned – never compromise your principles. 

View the photos from the Mission and Ventura:


socal060We spent the morning visiting the Santa Barbara Mission.  This mission is quite large and is referred to as the “Queen of the Missions” because of its size and design.  Founded in 1786, it was another interesting stop on our quest of visiting all the missions in the state.  We took a self-guided tour of the grounds as we usually do.  Before getting back in the car, we wandered around back and found a large garden tended to by volunteers, one of whom gave us a quick look at the plants. 

By this time, we were hungry and on the tip of the gardener at the mission, went to a nearby outdoor mall that had a farmer’s market.  This let us get us some lunch and load up on some healthier snacks.  So much food comes from the surrounding area that the fruit was excellent and plentiful.  

Now full on food, we ventured north a little to squeeze in the wine tasting that we didn’t get to yesterday.  One of our favorite wineries again did not disappoint.  At this point, it was prime nap time so we went back to the hotel to change for the beach.  In an unusual case, I stayed mostly awake on the beach while L’ then went back to the room for a nap. 

We enjoyed our time in Santa Barbara and look forward to returning for a relaxing getaway.

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There are two ways to get to Santa Barbara from Monterey and we chose the scenic way.  It’s not that much longer and would take us along the spectacular coast via Highway 1.  There are frequent vista points and we stopped at the highlights.  These included the Bixby Bridge (built during the Depression) and Pfeiffer Beach (home to the purple sand).  For lunch we went to a restaurant, Nepenthe, with ocean views and ate outside.


Further on down the road, we made an important stop at the excellent ice cream store of Doc Bernstein’s.  After first stopping there last year, it’s now a required snack break whenever we’re in the area.   To break up the drive, we also stopped in Cambria and saw Nit Witt Ridge.  It’s a house built entirely out of recycled materials.  It’s not open for tours without advance notice so we just took a view of the outside.   We wouldn’t go out of our way to see it again, but since we were in the neighborhood it was as good a place as any to stretch our legs.

We had thought about squeezing in some wine tasting, but it was too late for that so we just headed to Santa Barbara.  From our hotel we walked to dinner and enjoyed the warmer evening weather than we have at home.

View today’s photos here: